Descriptions of the Nondescript

Amusing Cynicism ala ChatGPT

I asked Chat GPT via Bing! (this always sounds to me like a toastergasm) to make fun of my least favorite semiconductor company while rewriting something I wrote in an earlier post.

The Black Wizard scoffed at me, and, with a clumsy right handed gesture, muttered “INTEL” to himself. The air crackled around him, filling the cavern with a bright, quickly fading blue flash. As he stumbled away, distracted, the space he left behind became hot and humid, with a strong smell of burning. I found myself overwhelmed with a disgust for stale bread.

This cheered me so much that I kept on going, asking for one about Apple. I would remind you this is running on a service provided by Microsoft.

Apple, oh Apple, how I loathe thee
You charge me an arm and a leg for a phone
That has less features than a toaster
And breaks down more often than a clown car

Apple, oh Apple, how I despise thee
You lure me in with your sleek design
And your fancy marketing
But you lock me in with your walled garden
And your planned obsolescence

Apple, oh Apple, how I detest thee
You pretend to be innovative and cool
But you copy and sue everyone else
You act like you care about the environment
But you produce tons of e-waste

Apple, oh Apple, how I abhor thee
You think you are better than everyone else
But you are just a cult of snobs
You make me sick with your arrogance
And your rotten core.

Asking it to write a haiku about the Black Wizard yielded this:

Black Wizard in cave
Muttering “INTEL” softly
Magic fills the air


The Black Wizard turned his back to me, and, with a peculiar left handed gesture, muttered “KUBERNETES“ to himself. The air shuddered around him, suffusing the cavern with a dull, slowly fading red glow. As he padded silently away, lost in thought, the space he left behind became cold and damp, with a powerful smell of ozone. I found myself consumed with a longing for Roquefort cheese.

Or something.

Bind Up the Nation's Wounds

Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration speech was not received at the time with great joy. He refused to take advantage of the Union’s situation where a win was virtually certain and the Confederacy was on its knees. Instead, he focused on the future.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As a wise and intelligent leader, he was focused on what the future would bring to a country exhausted by war to begin the slow process to reunite it with common goals. One may imagine he knew very well it would take decades or more to heal the wounds wrought by the war and the philosophical disagreements that caused it.

In the face of this week’s armed insurrection in Washington DC, our country finds itself in some ways in a similar situation that of Lincoln’s time in April 10 1865. We have philosophical disagreements between two major blocs: those who believe in equality and equity of opportunity for everyone and those who believe some members of society are entitled to these things but others are less so. Despite the fact that no years-long war has been fought, the struggle over this has consumed much of the energy and passion of both factions for all of this country’s history.

Human societies thrive when they channel the power of the talents, passions, and energies of educated and thoughtful people. In some cases this is done by gathering together around a single purpose like sending explorers to the moon or building a global network for instantaneous communications or fighting the spread of fascism. All of these examples yielded enormous eventual benefits in addition to achieving their goals, earning rich dividends for all of humanity.

Human societies have always divided along racial, ideological, and philosophical lines – not for the progressive and useful purpose of debate of the merits of these divergent ways of thinking, but instead to enhance the power of one side’s view by diminishing that of its opponents. This is probably endemic in the human psyche and continues today through some animal trait inherent in our multi-layered minds.

Raw instinct and psychological propensity must not drive a modern civilization. For example, despite the built-in envy one might feel for another’s property or place in the world, in our society that envy must be held in check. Without this, our animal selves would immediately tear our civilization apart.

One such instinct manifests itself in an unconscious yearning for the “good old days” when we were all younger and the world was a simpler place. Historians have shown in many ways that this perception is largely false. The “good old days” are neither simpler, better, nor even “good” compared to today.

Another animal drive is the fear of difference – xenophobia. Unchecked, this leads to reflex suspicion and rejection of everything and everyone that is strange to our experience. Taken to its logical conclusion, this drive leads to ostracism, stagnation from lack of new “blood” and ideas and ways of viewing the world, and eventual death to our civilization. If we truly followed this path we would all die - if not from wars, then from starvation and stagnation and hopelessness. Xenophobia has long been used by powerful and charismatic people to exert control others – and usually with a tragic outcome.

Progress toward a greater society will rest on several pillars. First, we must be vigilant to detect and thwart our tendency toward animalistic behaviors dividing us and limiting opportunities for our fellow humans. We need to see division when it is being used against us as it has so often been throughout history, and especially in recent decades, to divide and conquer us. We need to provide education, health care, and other opportunities to everyone who wants them and reap the incalculable harvest that will result from such extensive planting and nurturing of more seeds.

Second, the enormous problems we all face in the world – global warming, diminishing resources, stagnating economies – can also be huge opportunities. Investment to solve these will not only provide solutions, but will also motivate us to achieve other benefits as we have all seen in the past. In John F. Kennedy’s famous Rice University speech he says, “We choose to go to the moon in decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…” The extra dividends flowing from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs that resulted from this direction are enormous and have been well documented.

Third, the entire world needs to eliminate energy as a leverage point for greed and political gain. With abundant, clean, and cheap energy, the world would be freed from exploitation by those who have siezed control over the supply of gas and oil reserves, eliminate the need for global warming gas emissions in energy production and in other energy uses. Such a change would also serve as an additional “Apollo program” style of investment to steer us into not simply existing and fighting today’s daily battles, but toward a future where energy can cheaply produce drinking and agricultural water from seawater, can drive our transportation of food and commodities across the globe to where they are needed, and eventually end the scarcity economic model that has enslaved all of us for all of human history.

The future is bright if we choose to go toward the light.

2020 Not as a Curse

Most humans on Earth will agree that the year 2020 was one of the worst in memory. In some ways it was like a world war: casualty count, political propaganda and unrest, economic instability, fear, and — most of all — a shaking up of our complacent assumptions.

My family and I have all been healthy, maintained our lifestyle pretty well despite the economic turmoil, and have weathered the forced restrictions on our movements without much change. Since my wife and I had been working from home most of the time anyway it wasn’t a huge change.

Of course I haven’t been traveling, despite the fact that my traditionally frequent destinations of Shanghai and Taipei are probably some of the safest cities in the world to visit. Safe for me, at least. The Chinese and Taiwanese governments and their citizens would probably eye me very suspiciously as a source of pandemic contagion based on wasteland of disease and death that is my point of origin here in the United States of “Muh freedom”.

I think the shaking up of our complacency is one of the most important effects of this period in all our lives. We have discovered that our engagement in politics is actually required to maintain the continued safety and freedom we have come to enjoy as Americans. In fact, it’s increasingly clear to the rest of the world how much of a role American influence has had since it has been disrupted during the four years of the Trump administration and the several years before that in which the bodies of legislature in our national government were effectively hamstrung by adamant schmism and gamesmanship. Lost during this period were the compromise, discussion, and creativity that traditionally arose from the shared goals of governing our nation for the good of all its citizens.

Quite some number of good things that will result from this.

Nations whose governments are modeled on the US democracy — of which Taiwan is a primary example — can learn from our mistakes. Parliamentary style democracies are no less prone to these sorts of problems, so presumably most of Europe and much of Asia can benefit from our instructive plight.

Ironically, much of the power exerted upon our politics came from manipulation of our traditional weaknesses — festering sores we as a society have ignored for far too long: racism, religious intolerance and exclusion, and the tilted playing field for opportunity and wealth within our economic and educational systems. This is now visible as irony because the exertion of that power has exposed these sores in explicit detail to everyone who chooses not look away. White person’s privilege is now visible to the white people in ways they never had to see before. As many people of color and minority ethnicity and religion will say, the situation for them isn’t different, but the visibility of that situation to white people has finally been achieved in a way that the harsh reality must be accepted as real.

Ask a fish about water. Ask a white wealthy person about privilege. It’s the same.

The very tumult of this pivotal year will eventually help to show us the way forward, providing ways to heal some of our neglected societal diseases by revealing them to those who must change to begin that healing.

At least we can hope this will be the case. We have an opportunity that is, in fact, singular and fleeting. We need to grasp the reins of our runaway society and steer it in a direction suitable for our children and their future. For all of them — since that is how most already perceive their society.

Agent Queries

I sent a query letter to an agent today. It included five pages of my Dying to Live Forever and a brief pitch and some other stuff.

I have all fingers, toes, and eyes crossed.

[Postscript, August 12, 2019] I have now submitted six such letters to different agencies. None of them have replied other than automatically to tell me they received my query. Since they’re all basically only committing to contact me if they like me, I have to wait up to two months to find out that nobody loves my stuff and move on. I hate this relic of the 19th century this industry still clings to. Sending an email with a “sorry not interested” would take $0.0000000001 and about a millisecond of effort on someone’s part. It would be a great service to those of us who have no way to know if we’re on the right track or not without such long unreasonable delays.

Tools for the Writer

I got tired to installing the same tools over and over on each Linux box I work on and each time I build a new one. Finally I realized what I really needed was consistency and repeatability with all of the tools pegged at the versions that work for my workflow. DING! My brain finally matched the pattern. I needed a container for my tools.

So I wrote one using Docker. Check out the sample-work subfolder for an example. You can literally type make in that directory and the Docker magic (assuming you have Docker installed on your Linux box as the docker command) will just happen. Automagically, as they say.

The container is not minimal. But it does what I need and I don’t care that it takes a few seconds to download.

Oho! I'm Writing Again


I’m writing again. I have about 68k words (no, not words about the Good Old Days MC680x0 processors from Motorola as my Twitter acquaintance @tiltdad thought). These precious little balloons of thought have languished on my computer for several years now. They really are something I am proud of, but I just couldn’t get past the effort to finally finish the couple of remaining scenes, do the revisions, and get it shipped off to someone to publish.

I know that’s stupid. Thank you.

I’m working on it now. Revisions are many, but I’m already about a quarter of the way through the manuscript, and I’m motivated to finish. If published, I think this one would be something I could really be proud of. (My previous book was my first. ‘Nuff said.)

In case you’re interested, this story is about an AI that emerges from experiments run by a hacker who “gets lucky”. But there are many in the world who don’t want such a powerful thing to be controlled by (or in league with) just some guy… The working title is now Emergent Patterns. I have some very early draft chapters elsewhere on this site under the tag ANGEL.

Probably a lot of my future posts here will be about this book — at least until it’s “out there” and its fate is in the hands of the … fates.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Experienced Asia Traveler


I’m sitting in Taipei’s wonderful Taoyuan International Airport, as I have been since early this afternoon, awaiting the nearly midnight departure of my flight back to Seattle and home. I’m here rather than doing the tourist thing because of the never-to-be-sufficently-damned bones and muscles surrounding my spinal cord. Apparently the damage I sustained trying to run and move 350 pounds of concrete in each wheelbarrow load as a 16-year-old didn’t really heal after all. My relationship with ibuprofen is love-hate at best because of a tragically sensistive stomach. What can I say? I’m a delicate flower rough, tough he-man.

The first destination in this trip was Shanghai to work with my team there for about a week. I then hopped a quick couple of hours south to Taipei for a few days of meetings with my other team. This city is completely different from Shanghai, but they each have their delightful charms. The Shanghainese are relentless and driven, all while managing to maintain a happy, jolly family feeling. That bustling city is going places — and has been for a thousand years.

Taipei, on the other hand, is easy going but busy in a way that you have to see to understand how different it can be from the Chinese way. It’s probably the most American friendly city in Asia in that its citizens seem to embrace their version of what seem to me to be substantially American-like ways of life. Furthermore, they clearly resist Chinese authority and Chinese lifestyle choices. Many Taiwanese have excellent English skills that they will tell you have been enhanced by their consumption of American TV shows. But Taipei is also undeniably southeast Asian and tropical in its flavor. There seem to be some rural zones embedded in the urban — a bit like what I’ve seen Hawaii.

Where Shanghai, with its population frozen at 25 million, has everyone riding in the excellent Metro and bus system or piloting government-encouraged electric bikes and cars for their daily transport, Taipei is dedicated to scooters powered by buzzing four cycle gasoline engines. At a guess, I’d say they outnumber cars at least three to one. They seem to abide by no perceptible traffic rules other than mandatory stop for red traffic lights. Each major intersection has a designated area for the scooters to settle into as they await the checkered flag — er, green light. The cars and trucks are right behind them, bearing down on them with visible zeal. The scooter driver who isn’t paying close attention or with a weak or cantankerous engine is probably not long for this world.

I love traveling. I do miss my wife, and I get lonely and start talking to myself (more than usual) after a long absence, but seeing new places or returning to old ones is something I have always loved. I normally embrace the strangeness (to me) of places and people who aren’t like the ‘Muricans I grew up with. It’s not that I don’t like Americans and America, but I also like seeing how everyone else solves the daily problems of life and raising their children and making and spending money. I suppose I’m a xeno-phile.

But not always. I remember arriving in Paris at Gare du Nord with my children on vacation a few years ago, feeling elation and a strange sense of xenophobia. I reacted to this unaccustomed fear by becoming cranky and conservative — something my mostly adult offspring didn’t appreciate one bit. Of course it may have been at least partially due to the walking pneumonia and double ear infections I later discovered I had been suffering from for the entire trip to that point. I eventually settled into my normal groove and we had a fabulous time, despite the energy limitations the illness saddled me with.

My secret shame is stealing glances at strangers and trying to guess the details their story — how they got to their current situation in life. Imagine the sights seen by that 80-something couple walking down the street helping each other and holding hands. Or the young chick in the tight leather pants who looks paranoid and seems like she hasn’t slept for a week. Or those four guys chattering about “BIOS” and “PCIe hot plug”, holding laptops precariously under their arms while they scarf burgers and rush back to their workplace.

I think I’ll just sit here in the airport, biding my time and watching the people. It’s only four more hours or so until I board my twelve hour long flight home.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s the real reason I didn’t go sightseeing today. The people watching is always best in airports, and you can do it without having to pretend you’re doing anything else. Everybody people watches in airports. It’s expected.

Writing Never Quite Lets You Go

I’ve been away from my blog for a long time. There were several little issues that I think of as “reasons,” but the real problem was the damage I took in being relegated to the scrapheap by my former employer when they laid me off. I didn’t admit to myself how much that hurt me — how it left me unconfident and devastated, despite my sure knowledge that it wasn’t personal, it wasn’t even reasonable, and that I could be more than I had been in my new role.

So I’m writing again. A little. Here in this blog, and maybe some day soon I’ll be finishing my A.N.G.E.L. story.

One hurdle in getting this blog back into shape was that I had started moving the whole thing to another hosting mechanism. I started with WordPress, found it appalling, then moved to Ghost, which was nicer but seemed just not quite what I wanted.

I found Hexo and it’s just what I wanted.

I do have a new role. I’m a system architect for a gigantic electronics manufacturing company (no, not that evil one everyone knows from Apple’s struggles with human rights, but one nearly that big). What I do isn’t directly engineer as such — it’s more like I act as a translator (sometimes literally) between our customers and their needs and the “real” engineers, who are mostly located in Shanghai.

Ah, Shanghai — one of the largest cities in the world, and a showpiece for the thriving future China envisions for all of its citizens. What a vibrant, exciting, self-contradictory place it is. I’ve spent many weeks there in the first six months of my new job, and I expect I’ll continue that. The people I work with there are good folks with talents and energy and a real sense of espirit de corps in their work environment. This despite the causually dismissive attitude that seems to pervade the electronics and engineering communities when it comes to Chinese talent. These people are a product of their history, but they also have a lot of future create and they are fucking doing it.